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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Town Moves To Prohibit Large Parties Near ISU, Require Bar Patrons To Stay Seated

Koos and Dietz at an event
Jeff Smudde
Normal Mayor Chris Koos, left, and ISU President Larry Dietz at a Homecoming event in 2019.

UPDATED 5:45 p.m. | The Town of Normal moved Friday to slow the alarming spread of COVID-19 among Illinois State University students by temporarily prohibiting large gatherings near campus and requiring bar and restaurant patrons to be seated.

“We have to do something to stop the continued increase of the positivity rate,” Normal Mayor Chris Koos said about Friday’s dual emergency orders. “Ultimately, our goal is to keep businesses open. We don’t want to take steps back in Restore Illinois plans.”

One of the orders prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people around ISU’s campus, as defined by the town’s parking impact zone, plus at all other multifamily residential buildings in town. Failure to comply could result in fines up to $750 for hosts and attendees. That goes into effect immediately.

The second order requires customers of bars and restaurants serving alcohol to be seated to be served, to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth while standing, and to observe social-distancing measures. That goes into effect at 5 p.m. Monday. (A spokesperson said the town wanted to give liquor license holders time to make arrangements and recognized the information was coming out late on a Friday.)

Both orders are short-term, lasting only 48 hours. But the Normal City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider a longer extension of both orders.

Any member of the Normal police, fire, or inspections department, any ISU Police officer, or any agent of the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) can enforce the new orders.

Coronavirus - Testing Positivity Rate
The moves come as ISU deals with sharply rising numbers of COVID-19 cases among its student body. ISU reported 102 new cases on Friday, bringing its total to 512 positive tests.

That, coupled with 63 student cases at Illinois Wesleyan University, has driven up McLean County’s testing positive rate. It hit 8.6% as of Thursday—above the statewide and national averages—and soon will likely bump McLean County into a state-designated “warning” level.

Leaders at both campuses opted to bring students back to Bloomington-Normal this fall.

“Illinois State University has long been a committed partner with the Town of Normal,” ISU President Larry Dietz said in a statement. “The university has many COVID-19 health and safety guidelines in place and members of the campus community are strongly urged to abide by those guidelines during their off-campus activities. We greatly appreciate the initiative of the Town of Normal and will continue to be a partner in the fight against COVID-19.”

Koos said, without action, the town risked “the safety of our citizens and future economic shutdowns which jeopardize the economic health of our community.”

MCHD Administrator Jessica McKnight said “fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is a community endeavor.”

In a recent update, McKnight pointed the finger at "crowded bars and large in-person gatherings" as contributing to the spread.

“Controlling the spread of the virus relies greatly on individuals acting responsibly and doing what evidence shows will protect them and those around them, including avoiding large gatherings and wearing face coverings,” McKnight said. “The mayor’s emergency orders clearly show an expectation of behavior, demonstrating the Town of Normal’s dedication to health and protection of the public. Our community is being proactive to stop the current trajectory. For the citizens of McLean County, we are all committed to doing what we can to move things in the right direction.”

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